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Summary "Action Theory" as it is used here is the sub-area in the philosophy of action/agency that is concerned chiefly with the foundations of the broader sub-discipline. Central problems include the nature and scope of intentional action and agency, the explanation of action, and our knowledge of our actions. Most of the other problems that fall within the scope of this category at PhilPapers are closely related to such foundational questions.
Key works Perhaps the two most influential works that have shaped the current state of action theory are Anscombe 1957 and Davidson 1963. Davidson's essay is the locus classicus for the causal theory of action and for causalism about reason-explanations of actions. Anscombe's book has been influential among proponents of non-causal theories of action and reason-explanation. For a classic defense of the agent-causal perspective, see Chisholm 1966. And for a volitionist perspective, see McCann 1974. Some collections of essays that may help readers get a sense of the major debates in action theory today include Mele 1997, Aguilar & Buckareff 2010, Aguilar & Buckareff 2009, and D'Oro & Sandis 2013.
Introductions The following are good places to start to for those looking for guides to the current state of the art in action theory. Mele 2005 Mele 1992 Wilson 2008
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  1. Forrest E. Baird (1992). Human Thought and Action. Upa.
    A book of readings in Western intellectual history focusing on the role of reason in human action. Contents:^ Plato: Myth of the Cave; Plato: ^IThe Four Virtues; Aristotle: Knowledge of Causes; Aristotle: The Types of Governments; Epicurus: Epicureanism; Epictetus: Stoicism; St. Augustine: The Platonist; St. Augustine: The Nature of Sources of Evil; St. Thomas Aquinas: The Four Laws; St. Thomas Aquinas: The Nature of the Soul; Pico: The Oration on the Dignity of Man; John Calvin: Reason, Sin and Illumination; St. (...)
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  2. S. J. Boey (2013). De dubbele oorspronkelijkheid Van blondels “action”. Bijdragen 24 (2):130-153.
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  3. Graeme MacQueen (2008). WhatValues Underlie Our Actions? In Neil Arya & Joanna Santa Barbara (eds.), Peace Through Health: How Health Professionals Can Work for a Less Violent World. Kumarian Press 1075.
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  4. V. Mangalvedkar (1919). The Philosophy of Action of Lok. B.G. Tilak's Githarahasya. Indian Literature Publishers.
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  5. John Mullarkey, Almost Nothing Happening: An Essay on Action and Event.
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  6. Delroy Paulhus & Richard Christie (1981). Spheres of Control: An Interactionist Approach to Assessment of Perceived Control. In Herbert M. Lefcourt (ed.), Research with the Locus of Control Construct. Academic Press 1--161.
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  7. Leon Pearl (1977). Action Theory. International Studies in Philosophy 9:111-112.
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  8. Ch Pereleman (1960). Theoretical Relations of Thought and Action. Philosophy Today 4 (2):138.
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  9. Björn Petersson (2000). Belief & Desire the Standard Model of Intentional Action : Critique and Defence.
    The scheme of concepts we employ in daily life to explain intentional behaviour form a belief-desire model , in which motivating states are sorted into two suitably broad categories. The BD model embeds a philosophy of action, i.e. a set of assumptions about the ontology of motivation with subsequent restrictions on psychologising and norms of practical reason. A comprehensive critique of those assumptions and implications is offered in this work, and various criticisms of the model are met. The model’s predictive (...)
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  10. Jean-luc Petit (1989). La Sémantique de L'Action. A.N.R.T. Université de Lille Iii.
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  11. Karl Pfeifer (1992). Carl Ginet, On Action. [REVIEW] Philosophy in Review 12:196-199.
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  12. Karl Pfeifer (1991). Kathleen Lennon, Explaining Human Action. [REVIEW] Philosophy in Review 11:263-265.
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  13. Patrick Pharo & Louis Quéré (1990). Les Formes de L'Action. Monograph Collection (Matt - Pseudo).
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  14. Bryony Pierce (2006). Is The Concept Of Rational Agency Coherent? Philosophical Writings 33 (3).
    The concept of rational agency commonly presupposes the freedom of the agent to act autonomously, for reasons of the agent’s own choosing. If we are rational agents, the normative nature of reason and the presupposition of autonomy appear to preclude a deterministic account of rational agency, in which actions would be reducible to events within a causally closed physical system. This paper will challenge the notion of rational agency as involving self-determination in the sense of freedom of action. My thesis (...)
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  15. Guy Planty-Bonjour (1986). Les Implications Théologiques de « l'Action ». Revue Philosophique de la France Et de l'Etranger 176 (4):435 - 448.
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  16. Howard Platzman (1982). What is It Like to Be an Agent? Dissertation, City University of New York
    This thesis addresses a basic question in the philosophy of action: what distinguishes intentional from nonvoluntary action? Traditional discussion surrounding this question is largely a debate between those who propose some special state of or process in consciousness as an essential feature of intentional action , and those who deny this. I present a version of feeling theory that is responsive to certain problems with the view which its other contemporary proponents seem generally to ignore. ;Chapter I examines the feeling (...)
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  17. Pietroski Pm (1998). Actions, Adjuncts, and Agency. In Daniel N. Robinson (ed.), The Mind. Oxford University Press 107--425.
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  18. Edward Pols (1986). Moral Action. Review of Metaphysics 40 (2):399-402.
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  19. Daniel J. Povinelli (2001). On the Possibilities of Detecting Intentions Prior to Understanding Them. In Bertram Malle, L. J. Moses & Dare Baldwin (eds.), Intentions and Intentionality: Foundations of Social Cognition. MIT Press 225--248.
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  20. Betty Powell (1959). Uncharacteristic Actions. Mind 68 (272):492-509.
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  21. J. C. Pringle (1929). The Poor Law and the Control of Mental Disease. The Eugenics Review 21 (3):171.
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  22. J. Proust (2003). Action. In Barry Smith (ed.), John Searle. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 102--127.
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  23. Joëlle Proust (1999). Indexes for Action. Revue Internationale de Philosophie 1999 (3):321-345.
    This articles examines three ways in which the connection between semantic and pragmatic representations of a single action can be tightened up in order to remedy the puzzle of deviant causation. A first move consists in making the feedback process, i.e. the dynamics of the relationship between both representational components, a central element in the definition of an action. A second step brings in the action-effect principle, emphasizing the teleological relation of each pragmatic representation type with its external effects. A (...)
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  24. J. B. R. (1969). Human Action: Conceptual and Empirical Issues. [REVIEW] Review of Metaphysics 23 (1):143-143.
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  25. James Rachels (1998). The Principle of Agency. Bioethics 12 (2):150–161.
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  26. Daisie M. Radner (1993). Directed Action and Animal Communication. Ration 6 (2):135-54.
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  27. Lubomira V. Radoilska, Review of David Hunter, 'Belief and Agency'. [REVIEW]
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  28. Shahram Rafieian (2012). A Biosemiotic Approach to the Problem of Structure and Agency. Biosemiotics 5 (1):83-93.
    A human being is the simultaneous composite of several different levels of being, from atomic and subatomic to the level of complex social interaction, and these levels are nested within the individual hierarchically (lower levels giving rise to higher levels, etc.). One of the most important and influential approaches developed in the history of science has been that of systems theory and systemic thinking, in which the different levels of the hierarchy, and the interactions between those levels, are considered simultaneously. (...)
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  29. K. W. Rankin (1972). The Non-Causal Self-Fulfillment of Intention. American Philosophical Quarterly 9 (4):279 - 289.
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  30. David Rayfield (1968). Action. Noûs 2 (2):131-145.
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  31. William M. Reddy (2001). The Logic of Action: Indeterminacy, Emotion, and Historical Narrative. History and Theory 40 (4):10–33.
    Modern social theory, by and large, has aimed at reducing the complexity of action situations to a set of manageable abstractions. But these abstractions, whether functionalist or linguistic, fail to grasp the indeterminacy of action situations.Action proceeds by discovery and combination. The logic of action is serendipitous and combinative. From these characteristics, a number of consequences flow: The whole field of our intentions is engaged in each action situation, and cannot really be understood apart from the situation itself. In action (...)
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  32. Margaret E. Reesor (1990). The Hellenistic Stoa. Political Thought and Action. Review of Metaphysics 44 (1):139-140.
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  33. Ken Reid (2010). Improving Attendance and Behaviour in Wales: The Action Plan. Educational Studies 36 (3):233-247.
    The National Behaviour and Attendance Review Report for Wales was produced in 2008. Subsequently, its recommendations were accepted by the Welsh Assembly Government which established an Implementation Group to prepare its response in detail. A year later in April 2009 this Group presented its findings and recommendations to WAG in the form of an Action Plan. The Action Plan was entitled Behaving and Attending: Responding to the National Behaviour and Attendance Review. The intention of the Action Plan is to help (...)
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  34. Norvin Richards (1976). E Pluribus Unum: A Defense of Davidson's Individuation of Action. Philosophical Studies 29 (3):191 - 198.
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  35. William M. Richards (1974). Control Modification as a Criterion of Human Action. Journal of Critical Analysis 5 (3):104-111.
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  36. Erik Ringmar (1993). Words That Govern Men: A Cultural Explanation of the Swedish Intervention Into the Thirty Years War. Dissertation, Yale University
    My dissertation combines a historical case study with an argument derived from the philosophy of science. Why do states act the way they do, and how should foreign policy actions be explained? I begin by showing how existing explanations advanced both by historians and social scientists have problems incorporating intentional factors into the framework of their analyses. The historian will always be tempted to overwrite the meanings of the past with the meanings she constructs through her own narrative; the social (...)
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  37. Charles Ripley (1981). Actions. Philosophical Books 22 (3):161-162.
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  38. Stanley H. Rosen (1959). Thought and Action. Inquiry 2 (1-4):65 – 84.
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  39. W. D. Ross (1998). What Makes Action Right? In James Rachels (ed.), Ethical Theory 2: Theories About How We Should Live. OUP Oxford
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  40. Abraham Roth (2015). Practical Intersubjectivity and Normative Guidance. Journal of Social Ontology 1 (1):39-48.
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  41. Russell (1958). A New American Agency. Hibbert Journal 57:1.
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  42. D. G. Ryans (1935). A Preliminary Investigation of the Effects of Mental Distraction Upon Muscular Fatigue. Journal of Experimental Psychology 18 (1):148.
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  43. Esa Saarinen (1979). Aarnio on Intention as Leading to Action. In Aleksander Peczenik & Jyrki Uusitalo (eds.), Reasoning on Legal Reasoning. Society of Finnish Lawyers 6--199.
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  44. Bertrand Saint-Sernin (1998). Les Modáeles de L'Action. Monograph Collection (Matt - Pseudo).
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  45. Elias Savellos (1988). Actions Without Events. Southwest Philosophy Review 4 (2):17-27.
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  46. Charles Sayward (1995). Taking Actions Seriously. Behavior and Philosophy 23 (24):51-60.
    Two kinds of functionalism are distinguished: intensional and extensional. The former is argued to be superior to the latter. The former is also defended against two objections independently put forth by Ned Block and John Searle.
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  47. Sociomoral Competence Scales & Piaget Egocentrism (1991). Action, See Interpreting Human Action Age Trends, 64 Harm Versus Intention, 65 Altruism. 430-434 Rescuers, 440-442. In William M. Kurtines & Jacob L. Gewirtz (eds.), Handbook of Moral Behavior and Development. L. Erlbaum 459.
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  48. Stefan Schaal (2002). Arm and Hand Movement Control. In M. Arbib (ed.), The Handbook of Brain Theory and Neural Networks. MIT Press 2--110.
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  49. Niko Eugenia Scharer (1997). Doing Things in Your Head: A Philosophical Essay on Mental Action. Dissertation, University of Toronto (Canada)
    John B. Watson distinguished between the objective study of human behavior and the subjective study of consciousness. Like Watson I hold that human behavior is the subject of psychology; but there are problems with Watson's distinction. First, most observable human behavior is itself conscious; and second, some conscious behavior does not involve overt movement at all. Many behaviors, indeed many actions, are performed 'in the head'. ;I advance a theory in which behavior is a single general kind; mental and overt (...)
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  50. Richard Scheer & Professor Emeritus (2006). The Origin of Intentions. Philosophical Investigations 29 (4):358–368.
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